For decades, the conventional scientific wisdom about the formation of our Universe has been that it all started with a Big Bang and has been expanding ever since. A new article published in the journal Nature reveals that one cosmologist is proposing a radically different interpretation of the same known facts about our Universe, concluding that perhaps the cosmos isn't expanding at all.
For those of you not scientifically inclined, don't worry, I'm not going to regale you with an intricate scientific discourse as this intriguing possibility isn't my main objective fir this post. Let me just briefly say this by way of background explanation: most mainstream scientists have long believed that the only explanation for the known facts and observations of our universe -- including a phenomenon known as red-shift -- is to posit that the universe must be rapidly expanding, much like a balloon inflating. However, this standard model has always run into some problems which has kept it in the realm of theory rather than proven fact. It can't quite explain all the known cosmological observations, just most of them. In part, these gaps and flaws have opened the door for alternative views such as String Theory.
What's interesting about the new theory proposed by Christof Wetterich, a theoretical physicist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, is that he's come up with a completely novel third possible way of understanding the same facts and data: instead of the Universe rapidly expanding, what's really happening is that the mass of everything is rapidly increasing. This new theory might explain and account for the initial Big Bang in ways that the widely accepted standard model cannot. If that makes your eyes glaze over, don't worry, I'm not going to say more than that. If you're interested in more detail, you can read the article on the Nature website.
Here's what's interesting about all of this from our perspective:
It turns out that for nearly one hundred years, the same facts could have been strung together in an entirely different way, leading to a different model and set of conclusions. What's fascinating about Mr. Wetterich's proposal is that it's NOT based on new evidence that only recently came available. For all these years, there was an equally (perhaps more) plausible understanding of how our Universe works that no one in the scientific community ever noticed!
The point is: there are always different ways to interpret the facts and situations we are given. If we lock ourselves into believing there is only one "right" interpretation -- and usually we gravitate towards the bleakest most negative one -- we aren't necessarily being truthful. We may well be overlooking equal or better possibilities that are right under our noses, we just can't see them.
At a macro level, it's important to ask: how come no scientist came up with this alternate theory before? We are told that science is the objective search for truth. If so, it shouldn't have taken nearly a 100 years for someone to pose an alternative to the conventional wisdom. The truth is that we are highly influenced by those around us, by our society, our family, friends, the media, and our teachers. What they tell us we should believe often structures and narrows our world view. We can lose sight of other equally plausible explanations.
If you find yourself locked into a particularly destructive point of view and are reinforcing that by telling yourself, "this is just what the facts say" or "I'm just facing the truth" you might be deluding yourself. What you claim is the only way to see a situation might not really be the case at all, even if others agree and reinforce your point of view. What we accept as "truth" or "reality" is often just one possible interpretation, presented as fact but not necessarily so. We must make every effort to break out of our blinders, be open to alternative possibilities, not insist that we know everything, and certainly not insist that those who tell us "this is how things are" are always, or even usually, right.
The next time you're sure that you're right about how the world works, what someone is thinking, why someone is behaving a certain way, take a moment to ask yourself: what other possible explanations could there be for what I'm thinking or feeling? Making a habit of doing so expands our awareness, counteracts our dogmatic tendencies, and allows us to see the fuller range of opportunities available to us.